Crostini with cheese
The Italian cuisine is one of my favourites. So, here is another recipe from Italy’s rich culinary past! I have made these small toasts many times, and each time my guests were pleasantly surprised by the simplicity and delicious taste of these crostini. The flavour is unexpected for modern palates: cheese, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, and rosewater!
In France (and the Netherlands) the sixteenth century was a relatively calm period with regards to cookbooks. Most ‘new’ cookbooks were revised editions of medieval cookbooks, or had at least borrowed heavily from them. But in Italy some really original cookbooks appeared, written by more or less well known cooks or stewards like Bartolomeo Scappi (see recipe for tortelli).
The Singolare dottrina of Domenico Romoli (1560)
The recipe on this page is taken from La singolare dottrina by Domenico Romoli (first edition 1560, see bibliography).
Not much is known about the life of Domenico Romoli. It is clear that he must have lived in the 16th century (seeing the year of publication of his book), and a contemporary of his described him as “a Florentine gentleman, well-versed in the art of cooking as well as court, with a profound knowledge of the classic and modern authors”.
He had a nickname, Panunto (oiled bread). He was proud of it, because on the title page of his book he calls himself M. Domenico Romoli sopranominato Panunto.
Contents of the Singolare dottrina
De Singolar dottrina is not purely, or even for the most part, a cookbook. It consists of twelve books, and has an appendix, “Vn breve et notabile trattato del reggimento della sanità […]” by Roberto Gropetio.
This is a brief description of the twelve books. Brief, because of my limited knowledge of (16th century) Italian.
The first book describes the tasks of a master-carver (or steward? Scalco is not mentioned in my Italian dictionary). In the second book you can find in which time of the year all kinds of cattle, game and poultry are at its best. In book three you can find the same for fish and shellfish (and snails), turtles, mushrooms and, if I am not mistaken, fish eggs and parsnips. Book four contains menus for a whole year, sbeginning with March 10 1546 (Ash Wednesday). Book five is the actual cookbook, the only part with recipes. In book six the nature of all kinds of meat and poultry is described (even camel meat!), specifically their effect on one’s health. Book seven does the same for eggs, milk and cheese, and fish. Book eight analyses the taste and properties of foodstuffs (sweet, bitter, salt, sharp, fat and bland, sour, constipating, purging [?]) and the optimal sequence of dishes in a meal. Book nine describes the properties of several herbs and vegetables that are used in salads. Book ten mentions legumes, but also aniseed and cumin. Book eleven is about tree-fruits (apples, pears, peaches and such, but also citrus fruit, almonds, chestnuts and olives), fruits we consider vegetables (melons, courgettes), and grapes. Book twelve finally describes the properties of spices, sugar, salt, vinegar, water and wine.
Two menus from the Singolare dottrina
Here are two menus from the fourth book, to give an impression of what the meals were supposed to be like. In the translation of the dishes there are many question marks. If you can, please help me out. In many menus the last dish mentioned is ‘fennel’. I wonder if these are sugar-coated fennel seeds. Romoli also gives menus for meals alla francese for each month. I won’t go into that here.
The menu for Thursday 18 March 1546 (during Lent)
Antipasti – Uue secche con zuccaro (raisins with sugar), insalata di radicchi (salad with radicchio), scalognetti freschi (fresh shallots), fritelle di pastinache (fritters with parsnip), cefali marinati (marinated grey mullet), tonno in graticola (grilled tuna)
Alesso (cooked dishes) – Anguilla di Malta con cauoletti verdi (eel from Malta with small green cabbages -?Brussels sprouts?), calamari in potaggio (squid in thick soup), minestra di pignuoli (soup from pine nuts), schiene di arrenghe (the backs of herrings), sauor di noci, con aglio (walnut sauce, with garlic)
Fritto (fried dishes) – Zucca marina con salsa verde (sea pumpkins?do they exist? with green sauce), barbe di petrosemolo stufate (barbel or red mullet, stuffed with parsley?), fragolini (sea bream), gambaretti (small lobsters), limoni trinciati (cut lemons), oliue (olives)
Frutte – Ostriche in bragia (grilled oysters), mandole mondo con zuccaro (peeled almonds with sugar), carcioffi (artichoke), castagne secche abbruscate (roasted dried chestnuts), finocchia (fennel -green, bulb or seeds?)
Collatione per la sera (supper) – Insalata di cipolle cotte (salad with cooked onions), sparigi fritti con sugo di melangole & pepe (fried asparagus with juice of bitter oranges), pasticci di tartuffi (pastry with truffles), noci monde in uino rosso (peeled walnuts in red wine), & finocchio (fennel).
The menu for Wednesday 18 August 1546, on a meat day during Summer
Antipasti – Melloni (watermelons), cascio vecchio Parmigiano (old Parmesan cheese), quaglie arroste (grilled quails), vua moscatella (muscadines), crostate di piccioni (pie with pigeons), capretto (kid), limoni trinciati (cut lemons).
Alesso – Anadrine (duck?), capretto (again kid, or a mistake), pollastri stuffati con presciutto (stuffed chicken with ham), agresto (verjuice), sauor di verzure(sauce with greens?).
Frutte – Visciole con le suppe (morellos in soup -with bread), cascio marzolino (cheese from March?), pere (pears), persiche in vino (peaches in wine), nocchie (hazelnuts), finocchio (fennel).
The original recipe
The original text from the recipe, taken from La singolare dottrina di M. Domenico Romoli sopranominato Panunto, Dell’vfficio dello Scalco […] (Venice, 1593, see bibliography), book V, page 156r.
Quando hauerete fatte le fette del pane nel modo della rignonata, & abbruscate, mettetele à soffrigere con butiro, riuolgetele una uolta distendete le fette nella padella, & metteteui per ciascuna una fetta sottile di prouatura fresca, mettasi di sopra il coperchio caldo, & come la prouatura sarà risolata, spruzziuisi un poco di acqua rosa, & mettauisi di sopra il zuccaro & cannella: cauate poi, mandatele in tauola, & sopra tutto operate che si mangino calde.
When you have prepared slices of bread in the manner of ‘rignonata’ (a preceeding recipe) and you have toasted them, you bake them in butter. Turn once, lay them in a frying pan, and cover each slice with a thin slice of fresh provatura cheese. Cover with a heated lid, and, as soon as the cheese has melted, sprinkle [the toasts] with some rose water. Then sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Wait a short while, then bring them to the table, and mind that they are eaten hot.
Pigliate un pan grosso duro, scorticatelo, tagliatelo in fette non troppo grosse, mettetele à seccare al fuoco […]
cut it in slices that are not too thick, let it dry by the fire […]
Modern adaptation of the recipe
According to the recipe the bread must be decrusted. You may do so, but you don’t have to.
The bread is first toasted, then fried in butter, and finally grilled. In the original recipe the cheese is melted by putting a hot cover on the frying pan, but I prefer to profit from the modern appliances we have.
Antipasto for 6 to 9 persons; preparation in advance 15 minutes; preparation 10 minutes.
18 slices French bread (1 to 1½ cm/about ½ inch), or some slices of coarse bread
3 Mozzarella cheese from buffalo milk of 150 gr (⅓ pound) each
60 gr (4 Tbsp) butter
1 Tbsp powdered sugar (icing sugar) with 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 or 2 Tbsp rose water
Preparation in advance
Toast the slices of french bread or larger slices. Then fry them shortly in butter over a slow fire. The bread must be golden, not brown.
Cut the cheese in 18 slices.
Heat the (oven with built-in) grill.
Cover each piece of bread with a slice of Mozzarella. Place the crostini under the grill until the cheese has melted and is starting to colour. Take from the grill, sprinkle sugar with cinnamon over it, and rose water.
As soon as possible.
All descriptions of ingredients
A fresh cheese made from the milk of buffalos. Another buffalo cheese is Provatura. The difference between Mozarella and Provatura is mainly the place of origin: Provatura cheese is made in the vicinity of Rome, Mozarella is produced near Naples.
Originally these cheeses were made from buffalo milk, but nowadays they are mostly made from cow’s milk. There simply aren’t enough buffalos to provide all the milk needed for the production of these cheeses! Just use ordinary Mozarella or Provatura if you can’t get cheese from buffalo milk.
Pan grosso duro
My knowledge of sixteenth century Italian bread isn’t sufficient to decide what exactly is meant here. It could be bread made of durum wheat, or literally ‘hard’ (stale or heavy?) bread which is either thick/large, or coarse in structure. Maybe the big, flat Tuscan bread that is used for making bruscchetta is meant (with thanks to Silvia Coenen for her suggestions).
This is indeed water that is perfumed with rose petals. In the modern Western cuisine its use is obsolete (except in e.g. marzipan), but during the Middle Ages and Renaissance it was a popular condiment (as was orange blossom water). In the Middle-East and India rose water is still in use.
The editions below were used by me. Links refer to available editions.
- Domenico Romoli, La singolare dottrina di M. Domenico Romoli sopranominato Panunto, Dell’vfficio dello Scalco […] (Gio. Battista Bonfadino, Venice, 1593). A facsimile of the book can be found here.
- F. Sabban and S. Serventi, La gastronomie à la Renaissance, 100 recettes de France et d’Italie (Beaux Livres), Éd. Stock, 1997. (No English translation).
A recipe for crostini from the sixteenth century